Toxic positivity is not as oxymoronic as it sounds. When positivity turns a blind eye to all uncomfortable feelings, it becomes toxic. We humans are an emotion processing machine, we have mechanisms to resolve emotions like grief and sadness. Denial is not that mechanism, and that is precisely what toxic positivity employs. It deters us from embracing negative emotions and pushes us to repress them. Thereby creating a perfect recipe for disaster.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, all of us have a template of an ideal life imprinted in our heads. And this template is usually a bed of roses, a utopian state of affairs. Love does not hurt; parents are perfect, and friends do not fight. This becomes our reality. We seek goodness and positivity and forbid ourselves from acknowledging negative emotions.
Embracing positivity can indeed be effortless and comfortable. But when it comes to facing negativity, we try to escape. You will feel very safe and secure to be dwelling in positivity and anything that can give you a “feel-good” instinct. A complete rejection of anything that triggers negative emotions is created. We fall prey to a self-created bubble of happiness and protect it from all sorts of people, emotions, situations, objects, or even places that might have the tiniest possibility to pop that bubble.
Staying in this cheery and sparkling state of mind is absolutely important, however, we must understand that feeling and expressing a negative or a difficult emotion is equally important and it’s perfectly alright to feel so!
Toxic positivity is exactly what is contained in that bubble of joy and positivity that a person creates, to focus only on positivity and goodness.
Many of us feel that we should “always look at the bright side of life”, and that is the best way to live through hard times. We instantly turn a blind eye to the darker side. But turning a blind eye to it does not mean it does not exist at all!
At the same time, we raise our expectations for every moment of our life and want every little thing to go smoothly as per our fancy hopes. What happens when everything doesn’t go that way, despite your efforts to stick your whole self just to positivity?
That is exactly when toxic positivity kicks in. We pretend that our bubble of positivity is not broken and continue to pretend that everything is hunky-dory. We shut the darkness away and put on a mask of happiness. But once again that does not mean that darkness does not exist!
Why is toxic positivity bad?
Well, the word toxic itself speaks volumes about the condition such an attitude can take you to. Toxic positivity is a slow poison that you might feed into yourselves, as you continue to dismiss negative emotions and focus only on the good. Thinking that negative emotions are the poison that we should prohibit letting into ourselves, can be a wrong way to understand real positivity.
As we are human beings with ‘emotions’ as an ultimate gift of nature, denying ourselves an entire gamut of emotions and not releasing them messes with our system. We know the good in relation to the bad, hot in relation to the cold. When we do not allow ourselves to feel both sides of the spectrum, the whole point of existing, in reality, fades away.
Covering up some uncomfortable issues, difficulties, problems, sorrow, guilt, or any other negative emotions, is not the way through them. The inconsistency between your outward disposition and your true feelings inside, is a disaster waiting to happen. When you do not acknowledge negative emotions, they bottle up and eventually completely overwhelm you.
Pretense and façade have a shelf life, never work for the long haul, and always make things worse in the long term. All the existing positive disguises can be a breeding ground for nothing but crippling negativity.
What do you see yourself doing?
By making a showbusiness of your life, you do yourself a great disservice! You are hiding the dark side of you which needs to be expressed because the more you hide, the darker and graver it becomes. Toxic positivity can manipulate you into having faith in false and empty promises and lure you into an unreal world that does not have a happy ending for sure.
It is in your hands to make small changes in the way you act so that you will not fall prey to toxic positivity. There is no doubt that positivity is very crucial in one's life. Positivity is a superpower that can help us power through the most difficult of times. However, it should not be used to create delusions and deny ourselves legitimate sadness and grief. Example – going on a shopping spree or devouring tubs of ice-cream or polishing off wine bottles to stay upbeat and high post a break is unhealthy. You might be better of crying your heart out to a friend or seeing a therapist. Feeling hurt or sad does not make you a negative person, it makes you human. Embrace your humanity, that is the truest form of positivity.
Authentic human emotions are something that must be thoroughly practiced. We must let our physical, emotional, and psychological self go through what we actually FEEL. Positivity is not about shunning negative emotions; it is about processing them. It is not about having a sunny disposition 24/7, it is about being real and true to yourself.
How to fight toxic positivity?
Watch your words!
Hear how you sound. Be a good Samaritan, do not encourage people to bury and repress their feelings.
Do not use feel-good expressions like “It happens for good” “you shouldn’t worry about it” “be positive” “just focus on the good!” - you will add to their misery by delegitimizing their feelings.
Judgy phrases like “don’t be so negative!” “don’t spoil the mood in here!” “let’s not think about it!” or “you’ll get over it” do not cut it either. You will cost them their peace of mind.
Some right things to say could be supportive and true phrases like:
“I understand how you feel. And I believe that you will get through it if you try!”
“ It's okay to feel the way you feel! It’s okay to sense such negativity in a situation like this”
“ It must be really hard for you. But understand that you are strong enough to face it!”
Such phrases give the right direction of hope and validation during hard times. It will build more confidence to face the situation in a wholesome way and embrace the good along with the bad.
Although positive and inspiring statements can boost enthusiasm and optimism, the same statements may seem invalid and hurting to someone who is suffering. What they are looking for is some real solutions and trusted support.
It's like, if a person is stuck in a hole, screaming sympathy or some positive statements will not help them in any way. Instead, be the person that provides some real resources to bring them out of it. The right sympathy does not come along with toxic positivity.
The bitter truth about human beings is that life can be very painful and difficult. Everyone is dealing with some hardship. Maybe a broken relationship, childhood trauma, death, a victim of abuse, bullying, insecurities, body image issues, and many more sad and terrifying issues. Emotions like grief, guilt, sorrow, pain, heartbreak, worry, and fear are natural and human.
How too much of a life saving medicine can be poisonous, positivity resting on the graveyard of unprocessed negative emotions can also be so. There will be a constant tussle between your repressed emotions and put-on sanguineness. So, to be positive, do not run away from the negative. Face it, let it run its course and come out of it. Do not let any toxicity sour your positivity.
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